We hope that you've enjoyed our coverage this year and appreciate your readership. We know you can't fathom life without the Rothenberg Political Report, but for the next week or so, you'll have to make due. We'll be back next year and ready to jump into 2010.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Stu and Nathan
Monday, December 22, 2008
We hope that you've enjoyed our coverage this year and appreciate your readership. We know you can't fathom life without the Rothenberg Political Report, but for the next week or so, you'll have to make due. We'll be back next year and ready to jump into 2010.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Retired Lt. Col. Allen West (R) lost his recent challenge to Rep. Ron Klein (D) in Florida’s 22nd district, but his campaign continues. West announced his 2010 candidacy this week.
Despite being heavily outspent and neglected by the national and state Republican parties, West lost to Klein by 10 points, 55 percent to 45 percent, in a terrible environment for Republican candidates and in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004.
There is definitely resentment between some grass-roots conservatives and the state GOP for its lack of support in the race. But even though Klein is a freshman, he is viewed as a political heavyweight for his fundraising prowess and for knocking off longtime Rep. Clay Shaw (R), 51 percent to 47 percent, two years ago.
Klein spent $2.3 million against West, who managed to raise only $550,000, bringing the Democrat’s two-cycle total spending to $6.5 million.
Even though West announced his intentions early, he may not have the GOP field to himself. For now, everyone is waiting on former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) to decide whether he will run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez (R).
Klein is viewed as a potential Senate candidate, particularly if Bush declines to run. And if Klein leaves the 22nd sistrict open, state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R) is seen as a likely candidate. Incoming state Senate President Jeff Atwater (R) is viewed as a rising star in the party and will be term-limited in 2010, but is unlikely to run for the 22nd district.
If Klein seeks re-election to his Congressional seat, it’s difficult to see national and state Republicans making a significant financial investment in the race unless the national mood changes significantly.
West served in Iraq as a battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Division, and later worked for a private company training officers in Afghanistan’s army.
In 2003, West was accused of using improper methods when interrogating an Iraqi policeman whom West believed had information about a potential attack on him and the troops under his command.
He was facing a court martial and up to 11 years in prison, but after a military hearing, West was fined $5,000 and allowed to retire with full pension after 20 years of service. Rep.-elect Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a former teacher at the U.S Military Academy at West Point, described West as a living textbook when it comes to the rules of engagement.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 17, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, December 19, 2008
The December 19, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. This is our final edition of the year. Our first issue next year will be the 2010 Senate Outlook. Happy Holidays!
Normally, the print edition comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.
Here is a brief preview of this edition:
Illinois 10: The Strong Survive
By Nathan L. Gonzales
With Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) sweeping to victory at the top of the ticket and Democrats picking up another 21 House seats nationwide, you might have thought that Cong. Mark Kirk (R) was headed for defeat too.
After all, two years earlier, Democrat Dan Seals ran a strong campaign, and came fairly close to defeating Kirk, despite a lack of attention from the national party until late in the race. This time, Seals started earlier, emerged from the shadows of neighboring congressional races, and believed the increased turnout from the presidential race would help his cause in a suburban district that is trending Democratic. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.
Ohio 1: I Like You, But…
Ohio was a huge Democratic disappointment in 2006. Democrats picked up 30 seats nationwide, but only won a single seat in Buckeye State (the one vacated by scandal-tainted Bob Ney) after targeting a handful of opportunities.
But this last year, Democrats fared better. The picked up Cong. Deborah Pryce’s 15th District, after being unable to defeat her in 2006, the open 16th District, and defeated Cong. Steve Chabot in the 1st District. And it’s Chabot’s defeat that makes many Democrats most proud. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
After each election, I offer my selections for the “best” and the “worst” of the cycle. As in past years, I’ll offer up a few worthwhile nominees for each category before I make my selections.
If you don’t agree with these choices, feel free to send your ideas to my editors or to your favorite blogger (but not to me).
Master of Self-Destruction
Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.)
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)
Tom Feeney (R-Fla.)
Jon Powers (D-N.Y.)
Bill Sali (R-Idaho)
This list is scary. All of them strongly undermined their own appeal. But Bachmann won her race, so I’ll remove her from consideration. Stevens, who would have been a shoo-in for re-election without his ethics problems (Democrat Mark Begich almost certainly would not have run), is over 80 years old and I’m headed in that direction myself, so I’ll remove him from consideration.
It’s a hard call. Powers misrepresented himself to voters by puffing up his résumé, while Feeney was caught in the Jack Abramoff flap. Both were bad but not unusual. That leaves me with having to choose between Sali, who would have been re-elected indefinitely if he had made any effort to get along with people, and Mahoney, the hypocrite’s hypocrite. Tough call. I can’t make it. How about calling it a tie?
Strongest Republican swimmer against the tide
Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)
Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
Chris Lee (R-N.Y.)
Reichert has turned back two strong challenges in terrible environments in a swing district that has gone Democratic at the presidential level, and Paulsen beat a tough opponent in a Minnesota open seat. Mark Kirk’s nearly 10-point win in a suburban Illinois district was stunningly strong, and Chris Lee was one of the few Empire State Republicans to win. But my winner for this category is Collins, who annihilated a serious opponent who represents half the state in Congress. Collins is one of the few targeted Republican Senators who actually never was in trouble, a remarkable achievement given the national mood.
Time to stop running
Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.)
Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho)
Duane Sand (R-N.D.)
Elwyn Tinklenberg (D-Minn.)
Linda Stender (D-N.J.)
Jim Oberweis (R-Ill.)
Victoria Wulsin (D-Ohio)
This is a long list, and it’s hard to pick a “winner” in this category. Sodrel has now run in four consecutive elections. It’s time for him to find something else to do. LaRocco’s last two showings suggest that maybe running statewide in Idaho isn’t his best option. (And please don’t make me write again about another Wulsin versus Rep. Jean Schmidt race. Please.) But if Oberweis and Sand haven’t yet figured out that they ought to try something quite different, I’m not sure they ever will. So they split my vote.
Most Overhyped House Candidate
Dean Andal (R-Calif.)
Kay Barnes (D-Mo.)
Steve Greenberg (R-Ill.)
Dennis Shulman (D-N.J. )
All of these candidates are strong competitors for the most overhyped Congressional hopeful. But my vote goes to Barnes, a former mayor of Kansas City who once was paraded through Washington, D.C., as evidence of the Democrats’ strong early recruiting but who lost by 22 points to Republican Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.).
Biggest Long-Shot Winner
Tom Perriello (D-Va.)
Don Young (R-Alaska)
Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
Walt Minnick (D-Idaho)
Anh Cao (R-La.)
Anh Cao? Anh Cao? Holy Cow!
Best Name in the New Congress
Phil Hare (D-Ill.)
Joe Pitts (R-Pa.)
Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)
Anh Cao (R-La.)
Todd Platts (R-Pa.)
Zack Space (D-Ohio)
We are all lucky to have so many Members with “interesting” names. I expected Marcia Fudge to win this category in a walk. But coming up to nip her at the wire: Anh Cao! This makes him a rare double winner this year and should get him an appearance on David Letterman.
Most Religious-Sounding Name
Rob Bishop (R-Utah)
Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.)
Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.)
Three bishops, an Israel and a hazan — I mean a cantor. (Go ask somebody Jewish if you are confused by this reference). Two Republicans and three Democrats. Two Jews, a Baptist, a Mormon and a Roman Catholic ... sounds like the opening line to an offensive joke. Obviously I’m too politically correct to choose just one. I’ll pass.
Most Overhyped, Self-Important, Delusional Presidential Candidate
Another impossible choice given the long list of grossly inflated egos. You probably didn’t realize that Alan Keyes was on the ballot in three states and that he has founded a new political party, America’s Independent Party. Don’t look so surprised.
Three of these people never, ever smile: Barr, Paul and Nader. So I’ll focus on them, since their apparent humorlessness makes them all the more offensive.
Nader is a sad case, since he had some influence in this country and has now run so many times and echoed the same message so often that he has become pitiful — too pitiful for me to award him this category.
That leaves Paul and Barr, both of whom ought to know better.
Paul was treated as a serious contender by too many in the media, and, judging from the e-mails I received, by too many of his supporters. He raised a good deal of cash but never was a serious contender for the GOP nomination. Never.
A onetime U.S. attorney and former Member of Congress, Barr came within an eyelash of being the Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia in 1992, losing a runoff to Paul Coverdell, who went on to win the seat in November. Some argued that Barr had such potential appeal (possibly in the 3-6 percent range) that he might throw the presidential race in Georgia — or even the White House — to Barack Obama. (Don’t look at me. I thought the idea was nuts and said so repeatedly.)
Anyway, according to the Georgia secretary of State’s office, Barr ended up drawing 28,812 votes, or 0.7 percent of the vote as the state’s Libertarian Party nominee for president. Nationally, Barr drew 524,237 votes — about 400,000 fewer votes than the 1980 Libertarian nominee, Ed Clark, drew.
Overhyped? Over-covered by the national media? The answer is BOTH Ron Paul and Bob Barr.
Finally, let me end 2008 with a correction. A few weeks ago I wrote that one of my errors for this cycle was that I assumed there would be one or two wild upsets that I had not expected. That was true on Nov. 4, but the recent upset win of Republican Anh Cao in Louisiana changes that. So, I was NOT in error in expecting that there would be an off-the-wall upset that I hadn’t expected in the 2008 elections. But I was in error in expecting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to defeat Cao.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 15, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Barack Obama hasn’t even been sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, and the media can’t wait to name a leading candidate to take him on in four years.
Incessant speculation and polling are staples of today’s media, and any talk about the 2012 presidential race should be labeled as fantasy, not treated as news or analysis.
Not only are Americans — and many reporters — eager for a break after a seemingly eternal presidential race, but it is simply too early to predict which candidates will actually run for the White House four years from now and, more importantly, which issues will be center stage.
Four years ago, Obama had not yet been sworn into the U.S. Senate, after an easy general election win over Alan Keyes (R). Now, he is the president-elect.
Obama gave a memorable speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, but no one predicted he would be standing on the steps of the Capitol taking the oath of office in January 2009.
A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Nov. 16-17 in 2004 showed New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) defeating Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John Edwards (N.C.) and John Kerry (Mass.) in hypothetical 2008 general election matchups.
A month later, another Fox poll showed Clinton defeating Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and New York Gov. George Pataki (R) in potential 2008 matchups. It also showed Kerry defeating Bush, 45 percent to 37 percent.
In addition, a Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates (R) survey taken Nov. 14-16 in 2004 showed Clinton defeating Edwards, 46 percent to 28 percent, for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. On the Republican side, Giuliani led Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), 42 percent to 24 percent.
A look at polls of presidential races going even further back proves early speculation is extremely premature, and most often wrong.
Eight years ago, speculation about the 2004 race was initially muted as the Florida recount and subsequent Supreme Court decision delayed the results of the 2000 race. But a Zogby International poll taken Dec. 15-17 in 2000 showed Vice President Al Gore leading the 2004 Democratic primary field. That’s not all that surprising because part of the electorate believed — and still believes — he won the 2000 race.
Clinton, who hadn’t yet been sworn in as the junior Senator from New York, was second in the survey at 18 percent. Former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) was third with 7 percent, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the Rev. Jesse Jackson (D) and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) all received 5 percent or less.
Eventual 2004 nominee Kerry received 3 percent in the poll, just a couple points ahead of then-California Gov. Gray Davis (D).
Early presidential polls are more about name identification and past support, rather than revealing much about candidates’ future appeal and success, or the likelihood that they will run at all.
That’s why people should be very skeptical about all of this 2012 talk.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey taken Dec. 1-2, 34 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said they were likely to support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) if he were the party’s nominee. A similar 32 percent said they would support Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).
The survey was not a horse race poll, pitting candidates against each other, but instead an attempted measure of party support. But of course, ranking becomes inevitable.
The survey is somewhat futile because the vast majority of Republicans are going to support the GOP presidential nominee, no matter who it is. McCain received 90 percent of the Republican vote on Nov. 4. And President George W. Bush received 93 percent and 91 percent in his two elections, but that’s beside the point.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) finished third with 28 percent, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) received 27 percent, Giuliani had 23 percent, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) had 19 percent, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) had 7 percent.
It’s a cliché, but four years is about two lifetimes in politics. Four years ago, Palin was the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the former head of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and barely even known in Alaska. Now she is regarded as one of the national leaders of her party.
It’s impossible to recognize all of the potential candidates that could affect the dynamic of the 2012 field. And it’s too early to start tracking trips to Dubuque, Iowa.
A Selzer & Co. Inc. poll taken Jan. 15-21, 2001, for the Des Moines Register showed Gore leading the field in the Hawkeye State with 39 percent. Clinton was second with 12 percent, and Gephardt was third with 9 percent, followed by Kerrey (6 percent), Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (5 percent), South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (4 percent) and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (4 percent).
Of those seven candidates, only Gephardt participated in the 2004 Iowa caucus, and he finished fourth with 11 percent. Kerry, who tied for ninth place and received 2 percent in the 2001 poll, ended up winning Iowa with 39 percent. Edwards (32 percent) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (18 percent) finished second and third but were not part of the early speculation.
Before the handicapping can begin, it helps to know who is actually running.
An early January 1997 poll by Opinion Research showed Colin Powell leading the 2000 GOP presidential race with 32 percent. Former Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) was second with 15 percent, and Bush was third with 10 percent. Of course, Bush won the nomination and the presidency, while Powell and Kemp didn’t even run.
On the Democratic side, polls in early 1997 showing Gore with the advantage in the 2000 race proved to be correct. But he was the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination as the sitting vice president under a term-limited Bill Clinton.
Back in December 1992, Kemp was the first choice of Republicans for the 1996 race with 17 percent, according to a poll for Gannett News Service. White House Chief of Staff James Baker was at 16 percent, while Kansas Sen. Bob Dole received 15 percent and outgoing Vice President Dan Quayle had 13 percent. Even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney received 9 percent. Of the five candidates, only Dole ran.
It is still unclear how many of the current field of conventional wisdom candidates will actually run in 2012. But there are other unanswered questions.
How do the former officeholders stay relevant? By the time 2012 rolls around, Gingrich and Giuliani will have been out of office for more than a decade, while it will be six years each for Romney and Huckabee.
Besides the volatile list of potential candidates, it is even more impossible to predict how voters will prioritize issues in four years.
Just a year ago, the war in Iraq dominated the news and boosted Obama to the Democratic nomination. When the general election rolled around, the economy was far and away the top issue on voters’ minds and helped the Illinois Senator defeat McCain.
Because the economy is in such tough shape, it is not unreasonable to predict that it will be the top issue again in 2012. But who knows for sure? One terrorist attack or major international event could shift the issue landscape back to foreign affairs.
And if foreign policy is the top issue, how does that affect a potential GOP field of candidates largely void of significant overseas credentials?
Obama’s presidential candidacy and election demonstrates that most of politics is timing and factors outside of a candidate’s control. Without knowing the issue landscape, it is impossible to handicap the potential field of candidates.
This story first appeared in Roll Call on December 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, December 15, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
Much like the feigned outrage that Capt. Louis Renault (actor Claude Rains) exhibited in the movie “Casablanca” at the idea that gambling was going on in Rick’s Café Americain, the shock that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) hasn’t been entirely ethical is a bit hard to take.
Blagojevich has been the subject of an extensive FBI investigation for years, at least going back to October 2005, when the Chicago Tribune reported on a grand jury investigation into the administration’s hiring practices. And many politically aware Illinois residents, from businessmen to political insiders, have been joking that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Blagojevich heads to the slammer.
Of course, nobody could have expected that the governor was so bold as to talk to associates about how he might profit financially from the “sale” of Barack Obama’s Senate seat, so surprise about that is in order.
There has been plenty of speculation about how Blagojevich, and New York Gov. David Paterson (D), for that matter, might benefit politically from Senate appointments, ingratiating themselves with certain groups or removing potential political rivals from the field of play. But that’s generally regarded as fair game, since money isn’t changing hands.
Still, the recent avalanche of questionable conduct — including public corruption investigations and alleged or proven criminal conduct — involving personal financial gain by elected officials is mind-boggling and more than a little unsettling and troubling.
Let’s see, Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Frank Ballance (D-N.C.), William Jefferson (D-La.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) come quickly to mind.
Last April, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D), who also served in the state Senate, was convicted of fraud, while in September, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) was forced from office. In late July, the offices of Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Commissioner Jimmy Dimora (D) and Auditor Frank Russo (D) were raided by federal investigators as part of an ongoing public corruption investigation.
In Massachusetts, then-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D) was indicted for extortion last month after the FBI videotaped her accepting cash from a developer and stuffing the money into her bra. She eventually resigned her seat, but weeks after the report surfaced and a day after she had been indicted.
We don’t need to go through the long litany of elected officials from New Jersey, Louisiana and Illinois, who have over the years enriched themselves and their friends, or the more recent scandal ensnaring legislators from Alaska.
And I’m certainly not going back far enough to mention Kentucky’s legislative scandal or former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) or former Rep. Jim Traficant (Ohio) or former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland (R) or the officeholders ensnared in the ABSCAM investigation in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The reality is that when large amounts of government money are involved, some people — including some officeholders — will take the opportunity to use their ability to influence the distribution of that money to line their own pockets.
Some states, and some communities, still have a culture of corruption that makes this possible. How many times have you heard people joke that, “Well, it’s New Jersey!” to explain an indicted officeholder?
Well, it’s not an entirely surprising comment given the bribery conviction of former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski (D), former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo (D) and former Paterson Mayor Martin Barnes (D) for bribery.
Of course, New Jersey isn’t the only state with a reputation for politicians with questionable ethics.
And yet, corruption doesn’t have to be accepted as simply part of the political game.
Incoming President Barack Obama has talked about political reform and changing the way things are done, and his call for Blagojevich’s resignation is a wise move. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) certainly seems serious about cleaning up his state, and once-cynical voters have responded.
In addition, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has seemed much tougher, at least in rhetoric, on its own Democratic colleagues who have been under a cloud than were GOP leaders on their embattled Republican colleagues when they ran the House.
If there is something to be learned it is that the lack of a vibrant two-party system seems to provide an environment in which extensive corruption can flourish. Party leaders and political associates often look the other way when they are afraid that they are going to see something unseemly, if not illegal. Political competition tends to keep everybody honest.
Second, Congress and other federal officials better pay a great deal of attention to the considerable funds that will be thrown around over the next months to try to stimulate the U.S. economy. Money, it appears, seems to attract rats, and lots of money will attract lots of rats.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, December 12, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
It’s understandable that Republicans are looking for any glimmer of good news after getting drubbed in consecutive election cycles. But their celebration over recent victories in Georgia and Louisiana is over the top and leaves the party ignoring electoral reality.
“Our success in Georgia with U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and in the two Louisiana Congressional races makes for three wins in a row for a GOP that was supposed to be destroyed, demoralized, and humiliated on Election Day,” Ron Kaufman, the Republican National Committee Budget Committee chairman, wrote in a memo this week to RNC members.
Republicans look like the football team dancing in the end zone in the fourth quarter of a game when they’re down by 40 points.
“It would seem that the media reports of our demise and of how long it would take for Republicans to catch up were greatly exaggerated,” Kaufman chided in the memo, which also included the potential creation of a Center for Republican Renewal, an RNC Speakers Bureau, and Partnership 2010, which would include a paid RNC staffer for every state.
Kaufman’s memo comes on the heels of House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) memo, “The Future is Cao,” after attorney Ahn Cao (R) defeated indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) in Louisiana’s 2nd district.
“As House Republicans look ahead to the next two years, the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative, and work aggressively to earn the trust of the American people,” Boehner wrote.
Republicans clearly have their theme, and they’re sticking to it, even if the latest three victories don’t pave any path back to electoral significance.
While it’s nice to claim victory in the first three contests of the Obama era, Republicans should not forget that they held a GOP seat in Georgia, held a GOP seat in Louisiana’s 4th district and defeated an indicted Democrat who hid $90,000 cash in his freezer in Louisiana’s 2nd district.
The Georgia race should not have even made it to a runoff, so to boast about a Chambliss victory is a bit disingenuous. The GOP Senator outspent his Democratic challenger by more than 4 to 1 through Oct. 15, in a state that President George W. Bush carried by 17 points in 2004 and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried by 5 points on Nov. 4.
It’s like congratulating the New York Giants on defeating the Detroit Lions on a last-second field goal in overtime.
Democrats have enjoyed recent success in districts similar to Louisiana’s 4th, and Republicans had a very competitive primary there, but GOP leaders should not get too excited about holding a district Bush carried with 59 percent four years ago.
Looking to the future, Republicans cannot regain the majorities in the House and the Senate just by holding their own seats and defeating incumbents with frozen cash on hand.
Instead, Republicans should face the reality of the current electoral landscape. Over the last two cycles, they have lost more than 50 seats in the House and at least 13 seats in the Senate. Republicans have dug a tremendous hole for themselves, and it will take more than talking points to dig out.
Republicans need to come to terms with the fact that over the last four years, Democrats have gained control of every level of government.
In the House, Republicans had a 232-202 majority after the 2004 election. Next year, Democrats will have a 257-178 edge. In the Senate, Republicans had a 55-45 majority after the 2004 election. Next year, Democrats will have 58 or 59 Senate seats.
After the 2004 election, Republicans held 28 governorships compared with 22 for the Democrats. After Nov. 4, Democrats held 29 governorships compared with 21 for the Republicans, although the GOP will gain one back if Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) leaves, as expected, to join Obama’s Cabinet.
After the 2004 election, Republicans controlled the state legislature in 20 states compared with 19 Democratic-controlled states. Now, Democrats control the state legislature in 27 states, with the Republicans holding only 14.
And there are over 800 more Democratic state legislators than Republicans in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site. Four years ago, Democrats had a mere 10-seat edge out of more than 7,000 nationwide.
Given this new GOP optimism, if Democrats keep their cash in banks rather than in appliances, they could be in the majority for a very long time.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
There are plenty of Democrats who aren’t particularly sad that indicted Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson (D) will not be returning to Congress after his upset defeat on Saturday. Those Democrats may be surprised that Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) former chief of staff, Ron Faucheux, helped Republican Joseph Cao defeat the embattled Congressman.
Faucheux is president of Clarus Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm, which conducted surveys for Cao in the 2nd district race. According to an e-mail sent by Faucheux on Sunday afternoon, Clarus helped the GOP attorney score “one of the biggest Congressional upsets of the year.”
Cao defeated Jefferson, 50 percent to 47 percent, in a low-turnout general election that was postponed because of Hurricane Gustav.
Faucheux was elected to the Louisiana House at age 25 and served there with Landrieu. He later moved to Washington, was editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine for a decade and served as chief of staff to Landrieu for a year, beginning in 2006.
“I’ve worked for many years trying to bring reform and good leadership to my home state of Louisiana,” Faucheux said. “I’ve helped candidates I believe will do that, without regard to partisanship.”
In August 2005, the FBI raided Jefferson’s home and allegedly found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. The Congressman won re-election — 57 percent to 43 percent — in 2006 against Democrat Karen Carter in a runoff. In June 2007, Jefferson was indicted on 16 charges of corruption. He is awaiting trial.
Faucheux formed Clarus in June 2008, combining his consulting business, Faucheux Strategies, with the research division of Qorvis Communications. He was an adviser to Landrieu’s successful re-election bid last month, but Faucheux never talked with the Senator about his work on the Cao race.
“Clarus is a nonpartisan research firm focused on corporate, association and nonprofit clients, not political campaigns,” Faucheux explained. “Candidate work is an exception.”
The Faucheux-Cao connection is just one example of the small world that is Louisiana politics.
Faucheux ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New Orleans in 1982, losing 53 percent to 47 percent to incumbent Ernest Morial, the city’s first African-American mayor. Faucheux finished second in the initial all-party primary with 45 percent, less than two points behind Morial. Jefferson , then a state Senator, finished third with a distant 7 percent of the vote.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 8, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
It’s December, and we’re all filled with the holiday spirit. So I thought it was time for me to write a piece disagreeing with one of my fellow Roll Call columnists.
David Winston argues in his Dec. 1 column that Republicans lost in November, and will lose again, if they continue to rely on “the issue-less, relentlessly negative campaigns that party operatives have promoted for years; campaigns aimed almost entirely at turning out an angry base rather than appealing to a broader coalition.”
“The negative campaign strategy, tactics and training that have characterized Republican operations for most of the past two decades are more than outdated. They simply don’t work,” he writes.
He then blasts the National Republican Congressional Committee for running nothing but negative ads last cycle (based on a quick check of YouTube) and complains that the party missed an opportunity to have a “conversation” with the American public.
But Winston doesn’t stop there. He repeatedly calls for the GOP to adopt a “forward-looking, inclusive, modernized agenda,” and he asserts that his party has ignored new media technology and must embrace “a modern approach to campaigns.” Near the end of his piece, he refers to the “antiquated notion that all politics is local.”
While I certainly agree that the GOP “base vote” strategy is no longer appropriate given the bent of independents and the shrinking Republican identification, Winston’s insistence that Republican candidates fared so poorly because the party failed to have a positive agenda and candidates relied almost exclusively on negative campaigning is simply wrong.
Let’s be very clear: Republicans got spanked for the second election in a row because the GOP brand was badly damaged by President George W. Bush. Of course, Republican ineptness (and ethical lapses) on Capitol Hill also hurt the party, as did news events and a changing issue mix. But all of this can be traced back to the president’s performance over the previous eight years.
The idea that Congressional Republicans could have redefined their party before the elections is not credible. Sitting presidents and presidential nominees define a party.
As for “negative” campaigns, when your party’s reputation is in the toilet, trying to drive up your opponents’ negatives is one of the few things you can do.
For years, I watched NRCC operatives Terry Nelson, Mike McElwain and Jonathan Poe successfully hold onto GOP House majorities by bombing Democratic challengers with attacks, making many of those challengers unacceptable alternatives to inept Republican incumbents. Those “negative attacks” worked because the party had the resources to drive them home even in mildly unfavorable environments.
Last cycle and this year, Democratic candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were every bit as negative as the NRCC used to be. And in both cycles, Democrats had the financial resources and national mood to make those attacks particularly effective.
The truth, of course, is that good negative ads still work, though Republicans had a harder time making their negative attacks stick on Democrats in 2006 and 2008 because the public has had such an unfavorable view of the president and his party.
Republicans were no longer viewed as credible messengers (regardless of whether the messages were positive or negative), and it’s hard to have a “conversation” with someone who isn’t listening.
Even with that problem, the NRCC and Republican candidates’ “negative” attacks on Democrats Linda Stender (N.J.), Mike Montagano (Ind.) and Darcy Burner (Wash.) in the final months of the 2008 campaign may well have saved those seats for the GOP this cycle.
Winston cites the NRCC ads on YouTube as evidence of Republican negativity. Well, if you check the DCCC’s ads on YouTube, you’ll see dozens of negative ads compared with a single positive one (for Kansas incumbent Nancy Boyda, who asked the DCCC to stay out of her race and who lost).
As for Winston’s comment that the idea that all politics is local is “antiquated,” he’s only half right. Politics is neither entirely local nor entirely national. It depends on the cycle.
We clearly have seen two consecutive “nationalized” cycles where the wind was strongly at the Democratic Party’s back and in the GOP’s face. Changing the wind, as Winston seems to suggest, was impossible, so the only hope that Republican candidates had was to try to localize their races, thereby changing the nature of voters’ choices.
Finally, it is difficult to dismiss Winston’s argument that Republicans need a “modern agenda” and must employ “new media technology.” But parties often run out of ideas after eight years in the White House, and not every new technology (such as Twitter, which he cites) is a game changer.
There are plenty of things that the GOP needs to fix to come back from its back-to-back defeats — from raising more money and getting better candidates to repairing its image and coming up with an appealing agenda. But it’s time to jettison the idea that Republicans lost in 2008 primarily because they were “too negative.”
This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 8, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Democratic governors offered nearly universal praise for President-elect Barack Obama after their meeting last week. The feeling must be mutual as Obama continues to tap the gubernatorial ranks to fill out his Cabinet.
“I saw them taking notes,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said about Obama and Vice president-elect Joseph Biden’s level of sincerity and engagement in the bipartisan meeting with the nation’s governors. Obama and Biden gave some brief remarks and then opened the floor for questions.
The meeting took place in conjunction with the National Governors Association gathering in Philadelphia. And although the bulk of the conversation took place behind closed doors, subsequent interviews with Democratic governors revealed a high level of excitement about the next administration.
“There were no real secrets in the room,” New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) said. According to governors in the meeting, the conversation with Obama included talks about an upcoming stimulus package, infrastructure, energy and Medicaid, as well as an overall discussion about how the federal government can partner with the states.
According to Schweitzer, the incoming chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the discussion about Medicaid was particularly important. As the economy suffers and people lose their jobs, they are added to the state’s Medicaid rolls, at the same time when tax revenues are diminishing. Because governors can’t run up budget deficits in their states, there was talk of countercyclical payments to the states.
“He gets it,” said newly re-elected Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D). “He gets what the states are facing.”
Democratic governors were encouraged by the meeting because of the stark contrast to their relationship with the Bush administration.
“We need a partner ... someone who would listen,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), who described the meeting as a “wholesale success.”
While the Democratic governors were obviously excited to have the ear of the new president-elect, they were impressed with the way Obama asked for and handled input from the GOP governors as well.
According to participants in the room, there was a “powerful” exchange between Obama and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who expressed significant concern that another stimulus package would potentially increase the size of the federal debt.
“We don’t want a provider, we want a partner,” said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), the outgoing chairman of the DGA. Other governors expressed similar sentiments, saying they weren’t looking for a block grant or a blank check, but instead the ability to shape the infrastructure into specific projects that work in their states.
Beyond the NGA meeting, Obama has looked to governors for more than advice. He will appoint Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) to head Homeland Security and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) to head the Commerce Department.
There is a downside for the DGA. Because Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor, the secretary of state ascends to the governorship, and she happens to be a Republican. The GOP pickup wipes out the DGA’s gain of a governorship from the Nov. 4 election and would return the Democrats to 28 governorships nationwide.
In New Mexico, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) will move up, assuming Richardson is confirmed.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) appears to still be in the mix for a Cabinet post. She is term-limited in 2010 and can’t seek re-election, but she is considered a top potential candidate for a U.S. Senate seat expected to be vacated by Sam Brownback (R). In a recent interview, Sebelius simply said the future was “a little uncertain.” Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson (D), former chairman of the state Republican Party, is waiting in the wings if Sebelius joins the Cabinet.
Sebelius and Napolitano sat next to each other on a train to Washington, D.C., after the Obama meeting in Philadelphia. They were two of 16 governors who hopped aboard a DGA-chartered rail car for a field trip to the group’s annual meeting in Washington.
[Update: According to the Lawrence Journal on Sunday, Sebelius has taken herself out of consideration.]
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, December 08, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Three years ago, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) appointed then-Rep. Bob Menendez (D) to his Senate seat after Corzine was elected governor of the Garden State. Now, Menendez is slated to further follow in Corzine’s footsteps, taking the helm at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Corzine once led during a time when the political landscape was quite different.
“He should have talked to me before he took it,” said a smiling Corzine during an interview Tuesday on a train en route to the Democratic Governors Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. “It’s the most exhausting thing I ever did,” he added. “It’s like having two jobs at once.”
Corzine led the DSCC during the 2004 cycle, when President George W. Bush won re-election and Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate.
“We held our own,” said Corzine, who said he was most proud of the Senate victories of Barack Obama in Illinois and Ken Salazar in Colorado that year.
With Menendez at the helm, it means that three of the past five DSCC chairmen have been from New Jersey. Before Menendez and Corzine, Sen. Robert Torricelli led the committee during the 2000 cycle.
After his time at the DSCC, Corzine ran successfully for governor in 2005. He is up for re-election next year, and while he has not made an official announcement, Corzine, sounding confident, said, “I fully intend to run.”
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, December 05, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Al Franken certainly isn’t the first candidate to endure a long recount. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) knows all about close races and recounts, and she recently offered her advice to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee in the protracted Minnesota Senate race.
“I told him, don’t let [Republicans] market that something is wrong with the recount,” Gregoire said Tuesday, reflecting on her personal call to Franken. “Don’t let that happen. Recounts happen in America.”
Franken is in the middle of a recount in Minnesota and trails narrowly in his race against Sen. Norm Coleman (R). Gregoire was first elected in 2004, after trailing in two machine recounts by 129 votes and 47 votes, and finally prevailing by 129 votes in a third, manual recount.
“[People should] respect the recount process. It’s part of the system in our country,” Gregoire said in an interview Tuesday while on her way from the governors’ meeting with President-elect Barack Obama in Philadelphia to the annual Democratic Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
Former state Sen. Dino Rossi, the 2004 Republican nominee, ran against Gregoire again in 2008, but the Democrat prevailed by a much wider margin, 53 percent to 47 percent.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 2, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Even though New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) trailed former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in the polls for almost two years, that didn’t stop some GOP operatives from maintaining a sliver of optimism about the race, even in the campaign’s final months.
But Republicans were too focused on the margin between the Senator and his Democratic opponent (whom he defeated six years ago in a better political environment) in public polls and in private GOP surveys and didn’t put enough weight on Sununu’s standing in ballot tests in the race.
In 35 public polls taken from March 2007 through the end of October 2008, Sununu trailed in all but one of them. A December 2007 American Research Group poll showed the Republican with an astounding 11-point lead, which was a clear outlier.
A crop of polls in early to mid-September showed Sununu narrowing a consistent double-digit gap to single digits, as the Senator invoked his campaign plan. Unlike some of his colleagues, Sununu chose not to advertise early, and instead kept his campaign cash until the fall.
While Shaheen’s lead narrowed below double digits in the fall, Sununu’s number remained unchanged — stuck in the low 40s. The strange December ARG survey was the only public poll in which the Senator exceeded 45 percent in a ballot test.
In the end, Sununu lost to Shaheen 52 percent to 45 percent.
The Republican’s decision to save his money until the fall probably didn’t hurt his chances. Some of his Republican colleagues advertised early (Gordon Smith in Oregon and Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina) and still lost re-election.
But Sununu was banking on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) competing in and even potentially winning New Hampshire in the presidential contest (McCain wound up losing the state by 9 points) and hoping that the 2006 GOP bloodbath in the state was an aberration.
That proved to be wishful thinking. And what’s more, Sununu received support from only 37 percent of female voters against Shaheen — the lowest total by a Republican Senate incumbent in the country.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on December 1, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to bring America together. While that rallying cry sounds good to many people, it would require a Herculean task that may well be impossible.
We are currently in a media environment dominated by loud, often-nasty ideologues who care more about belittling and demonizing the opposition than promoting ideas and civility.
While some of our politicians and political leaders certainly deserve blame for contributing to the animosity, the problem goes beyond them and to the larger culture.
Just go to the Web or turn on a cable TV news network, and you’ll see and hear the kind of coarse, downright mean characterizations of politicians that have made civility and rationality all but impossible when discussing politics or political issues.
On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have chosen to be every bit as unfair and misleading as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly at Fox. MSNBC brings on writers from the very-left-of-center Nation magazine, much as Fox brings on the agenda- driven Dick Morris — offering partisan, ideological drivel that masquerades as serious political analysis.
Many of these talk-show hosts have no interest in being even-handed, preferring instead to play to the partisan preferences of their viewers. So they mischaracterize their opponents; ask loaded, self-serving questions intended to damage the opposition; and pass falsehoods and half-truths off as accurate characterizations of their adversaries.
What’s lacking, of course, is any sense of humility. The Olbermanns and O’Reillys of the world hardly ever express any doubts about their own views or display a sense of modesty. They are right and their opponents are wrong. Always.
Unfortunately, these efforts at pandering to true believers have borne fruit. Conservatives now watch Fox, while liberals tune into MSNBC. The public deserves some of the blame, of course, because these networks are only giving people what they want.
CNN, the alternative on the cable side, hasn’t sunk to the depths of the other two cable news networks, but it too has chosen to elevate personality over the news. Indeed, the celebrity aspect of alleged news coverage continues to grow, often adding to political polarization. The media’s post- election obsession with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is a good example.
Beyond the media’s contribution to divisiveness is the reality that November’s exit poll continues to show deep divisions in the country — divisions that will not be healed easily, no matter the president-elect’s intentions.
The country’s deepest and most-explosive division revolves around culture.
Four in 10 voters attend religious services at least weekly, and they went for John McCain, 55 percent to 43 percent. Almost an equal number of voters, 42 percent, said they attend religious services only occasionally, and they went for Obama, 57 percent to 42 percent. And among those voters who never attend religious services, Obama won by 37 points, 67 percent to 30 percent.
On guns, another longtime indicator of cultural values, divisions remain deep. A substantial 42 percent of Americans own guns, and they voted for McCain, 62 percent to 37 percent. Those voters who don’t own a gun, 58 percent of all respondents in the exit poll, went for Obama by 32 points, 65 percent to 33 percent.
It’s true, of course, that if Americans no longer care about cultural issues, as some suggest, these differences are unimportant. But with gay marriage clearly remaining a major issue on the national radar and with Supreme Court vacancies and appointments nearly certain in the next few years, it’s unlikely that cultural issues will evaporate.
Further, the size of Obama’s victory and the nature of the problems that he will confront don’t suggest the end of division.
Obama’s 53 percent victory was a solid win, far more decisive than the last two presidential elections. But it was hardly a blowout.
His apparent margin of 6.8 points (based on near-final numbers from CNN) was well below the true landslide margins in Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s re-elections (23.2 points and 18.2 points, respectively), but it also was below Bill Clinton’s re-election (8.5 points). Maybe more importantly, it was significantly below Reagan’s margin over Jimmy Carter (9.6 points) and slightly below George H.W. Bush’s 7.8-point margin in the 1988 open-seat race.
In other words, America did not “come together” to elect Obama. The country was divided, and while most Americans now hope that he can solve the nation’s problems, the new president’s choices will invariably require him to make trade-offs — trade-offs that are likely to anger some, maybe many, Americans.
While many Americans say they would like the country to come together, what they often really mean is that they would like others to change their views.
Obama has the oratorical skills to capture the public’s attention, and the nation’s pessimism about the future actually gives the president-elect a unique opportunity to rally support.
But unless our new president is smart enough and lucky enough to preside over the transformation of the American economy, and unless he places a higher priority on uniting the country, rather than pursing an ideological agenda, we are likely headed for more nastiness and division sooner or later.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 1, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, December 01, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) was one of the few Republicans who looked increasingly solid as the campaign developed, rather than more vulnerable. Her 61 percent to 39 percent victory over Rep. Tom Allen (D) was impressive, but even that margin doesn’t paint the whole picture of how well she did — and the Senator did it at the same time then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) carried Maine by 17 points.
Collins won an amazing 40 percent of Obama voters. That was against a sitting Democratic Congressman who has represented half of the state for more than a decade. She also won one-third of self-described liberal voters and one-third of Democratic voters. Wyoming’s two Senators were the only other Republican Senate candidates to reach those numbers. And there is a difference between liberals in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Portland, Maine.
Collins also won approximately two-thirds of self-described moderates and independents.
But her support with liberals and voters in the middle didn’t hurt her among the GOP base. Collins won 90 percent of Republicans, which was more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) were able to keep in the tent. She also won 85 percent of conservatives, placing her behind only Roberts and Wyoming’s duo.
Collins also scored an impressive 59 percent with female voters. In comparison, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won 34 percent of women in the Maine presidential contest. Maine’s junior Senator also won almost two-thirds of the male vote.
Collins’ victory shows that not all pre-election storylines materialize into reality. Running for re-election in a blue state, against a Democratic Congressman who represented half of the state, and in the shadow of her colleague, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), was supposed to guarantee supreme vulnerability.
But Collins ran like a vulnerable incumbent from the beginning, and despite a late September Mellman Group poll that showed an 8-point race, the outcome was never in doubt.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 26, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The November 24, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.
Here is a brief preview of this edition:
Georgia Senate: Still On My Mind
By Nathan L. Gonzales
It’s not over yet. The 2008 election continues with a runoff election in Georgia. And Democrats must defeat Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) to have any chance of reaching the symbolic 60 seats in the Senate. But thanks to the ongoing recount in the Minnesota Senate race, the December 2 vote in the Peach State may not be the final word. Get the whole story in the print edition.
Louisiana 4: Fight to the Finish
By Nathan L. Gonzales
It’s a good thing that Louisiana voters are used to going to the polls in December. Even though the state junked the jungle primary for more traditional primaries, Hurricane Gustav pushed the races back a month. Now, voters will go to the polls in Northwest Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District on December 6.
It’s yet another GOP open seat where Republicans are in serious jeopardy. And both parties are trying to maintain focus after an election where Democrats gained at least another 21 seats in the House. Get the whole story in the print edition.
By Nathan L. Gonzales
While Republicans might be dreaming of picking off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) Senate seat if she resigns to become the next secretary of State, history shows the odds of that happening are not on their side.
If Clinton steps down from the Senate, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor, and a special election would be held in 2010 for the remaining two years of her term.
But Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010, and historically, the same party wins both of a state’s Senate seats when they are up for election simultaneously.
Over the past 60 years, there have been 25 times when both Senate seats in one state were up for election. In 22 of those instances (88 percent of the time), one party won both seats.
The most recent example was this year, when Wyoming and Mississippi held elections for both of their Senate seats.
In Mississippi, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) ran virtually even in polling with appointed-Sen. Roger Wicker (R) for most of the year, but fell well short on Election Day, garnering 45 percent to Wicker’s 55 percent. Sen. Thad Cochran (R) was not targeted and won re-election easily with 62 percent.
And in Wyoming, Sen. Mike Enzi (R) and Sen. John Barrasso (R), who was appointed in 2007 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), were each elected with over 70 percent of the vote.
Further analysis of the three instances where the two Senate races were won by candidates from different parties show an even tougher road for Empire State Republicans. That’s if they are even able to convince a big-name challenger to run.
In two of the three instances, the split results maintained the partisan status quo before the election.
In Idaho in 1962, Democratic Sen. Frank Church won re-election while appointed Sen. Len Jordan’s (R) victory retained the Republican seat. And in South Carolina in 1966, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond won re-election, just as Democrat Fritz Hollings kept a Democratic-held seat after defeating an appointed Senator in the primary.
In the final case, in New Hampshire in 1962, Sen. Norris Cotton (R) won re-election, while his party lost the state’s other Senate seat. But the Senator who had been appointed to fill that vacancy and who ran to fill the rest of the unexpired term, Maurice Murphy Jr. (R), lost in the primary, and Thomas McIntyre (D) defeated Rep. Perkins Bass (R) in the general election. (Bass is the father of former Rep. Charlie Bass, who lost re-election in 2006 in New Hampshire’s 2nd district.)
So if Republicans are able to win in New York, it will be the first time in almost five decades that an appointed Senator has lost election in the same cycle that his party won the state’s other Senate seat.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 20, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, November 24, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
Like everyone who makes a living in the reporting and handicapping business, I made my share of mistakes this election cycle.
While I didn’t jump on the “McCain is toast” bandwagon during the summer of 2007, I didn’t really expect him to come back to win the Republican presidential nomination. And while I never dismissed Barack Obama’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination, I certainly didn’t expect it until well into the Democratic nominating process.
Who thought that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would lose Iowa but win New Hampshire? And who in their right mind really thought that McCain would pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate? Don’t look at me.
Anyway, I thought I’d point out some of my dumber assessments and evaluations for those of you who don’t already think that I’m totally clueless about politics. (This, obviously, excludes many bloggers, who already think that I can’t find my own navel.)
I think my biggest blunder was believing (and writing) that McCain should pick someone such as Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) for his running mate.
After watching what the Palin selection did to the GOP convention and to the entire Republican Party, I think a divisive pick, whether a pro-abortion-rights Republican or a Democrat with a liberal record on cultural issues and the environment, would have been a giant mistake.
Yes, selecting Lieberman or Ridge would have made a statement about his maverick or bipartisan approach (and that would have been a plus), but it would have created a chaotic Republican convention during which conservatives would have been in full revolt.
The GOP would have been in disarray for weeks, and McCain’s numbers, I now believe, would have tanked during that period. Lieberman or Ridge might have been more of an asset during the nation’s financial meltdown in late September and early October, but conservative Republicans would have been so turned off by a Lieberman or Ridge VP selection that I’m not sure they ever would have warmed to McCain — or voted for him, which they did.
Next, while I always thought that Obama could win Colorado and Virginia, I didn’t treat North Carolina and Indiana as in play until much too late. It’s easy to get locked into an assessment, and I did in this case.
Turning to the Congressional elections, I made two very different errors at different points in the cycle.
Initially, I assumed that voter sentiment would shift after the 2006 cycle, producing a more “normal” electorate and allowing Republicans to get out from under the “time for a change” sentiment that smothered them during the midterms. It never happened.
The public’s mood soured even worse after 2006, and the book never really closed on the 2006 election cycle until this month’s elections were over.
Then, as the 2008 balloting approached, I obviously underestimated some of the Republicans’ ability to swim against the tide. I expected Democratic House gains to be in the 27-33 range, at least a few seats higher than they are likely to net.
In individual contests throughout the cycle, I was too late in seeing the wins by Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Walt Minnick (D- Idaho), as well as Democrat Travis Childers’ victory in the special election in Mississippi’s 1st district.
I hadn’t met either of the candidates in the Mississippi special, so I mistakenly assumed that the district’s Republican bent would be enough to elect Greg Davis. My job is to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
I also totally messed up when I repeatedly warned readers that I expected a handful of GOP seats to fall that I had not even rated as vulnerable. This happened in 2006, when I failed to note that then-Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) could go down to defeat. This time, since the Democratic wave was smaller than I expected, not a single true long-shot won. I remain surprised by that.
My single biggest rating mistake was rating Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska’s at-large House seat as “Democrat Favored.” I expected Young, who received his share of bad press over the past couple of years and is under federal investigation, to be defeated by challenger Ethan Berkowitz (D). I was wrong. Young won, and he did so by more than a razor-thin margin.
Finally, I wrote that the Louisiana Senate race would be a tossup all the way until Election Day, even asserting it was “likely to be decided by a point or two.” It wasn’t. In fact, my own newsletter moved the race from “Toss-Up” to “Narrow Advantage” for Mary Landrieu on Sept. 26. Landrieu ended up winning 52.1 percent to 45.7 percent, a 6-point win. Landrieu’s 52 percent showing was in line with her earlier wins (50 percent in 1996 and 52 percent in 2002), but the margin was not all that close.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 20, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
After losing at least a dozen Senate seats over the last two election cycles, Republicans start the 2010 cycle on the defensive once again.
Republicans, and incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), will defend at least 19 seats this upcoming cycle compared with the Democrats’ 15 seats. President-elect Barack Obama carried 19 of the 34 states where there are seats up in this Senate class.
But the 2010 Senate playing field will expand to include Delaware and could include many more depending on Cabinet appointments, resignations and Members’ health.
In 2008, Republicans started the cycle defending 21 seats to the Democrats’ 12. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s (R) resignation and Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas’ (R) death brought two more GOP seats into the mix, for a total of 35 Senate seats up for election earlier this month.
Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D) will soon resign his seat in Delaware, the Democratic governor will appoint his successor and a special election will be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of his term. That would bring the 2010 totals to 16 Democratic seats up and 35 seats up overall.
Obama already resigned his Illinois Senate seat, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will choose his successor. But the president-elect’s seat was already scheduled to be up for re-election in 2010.
Obama may appoint Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) to be his secretary of State, and her New York Senate seat is not scheduled to be up until 2012. If she resigns, Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor and a special election would be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of her term. That would bring the Democrats’ total to 17 seats and an overall total of 36 seats.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is considering a run for governor in 2010 and may eventually resign her seat (which is not up until 2012) along the way. That would bump up the Republican defense to 20 seats, with 37 seats up overall.
Thirty-six Senate seats were up in 1950 and 1962. Democrats defended 23 seats in 1950 and suffered a net loss of five seats to the Republicans. In 1992, Democrats defended 21 seats and there was no net change.
In 1954, Democrats defended 22 of the 38 seats up for election and gained two seats.
And in 1962, a whopping 39 seats were up for election. Democrats were defending 21 of them and gained four.
That was the most Senate seats up in a cycle in the last 60 years, and if things play out, 2010 could equal or exceed that number.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R) trails Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) in the Alaska Senate race. But if Stevens were to win, he would likely be expelled, and a special election would immediately be held for the next two years. But another election would be held in 2010 for the remaining four years. So that’s another race that could be added to the 2010 docket. [Update- Stevens lost, so Begich will serve a full six-year term.]
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and may resign her seat in order to run. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010. That could make 39 total seats up.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) was just re-elected easily but is mentioned as a potential secretary of State option. But if he gets the nod, that means Clinton didn’t get it, so it wouldn’t affect the math of the cycle. Fellow Bay State Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) is not up for re-election until 2012, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year.
And in West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) isn’t up again until 2012, but he turns 91 on Thursday and recently stepped down as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Any way you slice it, 2010 could be a very expensive cycle for the Senate campaign committees, with races in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and potentially two seats up in New York and California.
This item first appeared on RollCall.com on November 18, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
It isn’t easy being a candidate for Congress. It takes an unnatural amount of time and effort to put together a winning campaign, and even then, circumstances can conspire against a candidate who does everything right.
But being a confident candidate, even one with a credible campaign, doesn’t justify absurd claims and press releases. Some campaigns simply are in denial when it comes to what is important or what is possible, and it is those campaigns that drive me crazy.
Wealthy Democrat Jim Harlan was convinced he could beat Republican Rep. Steve Scalise in Louisiana’s 1st district, even though the district is the state’s most educated, most affluent and most Republican. George W. Bush drew a stunning 71 percent in the district in 2004, an even stronger showing than he had in Wyoming.
Harlan put more than $1.2 million from his own pocket into the race, and his campaign directed some of the most ridiculous attacks of the cycle against his opponent. For example, the Harlan campaign criticized Scalise for misleading voters by claiming he had a 100 percent voting record, even though he did have a perfect attendance record. “Scalise actually missed 1,453 votes in the 110th Congress before taking the seat in May,” charged a bizarre Harlan press release.
In the end, while Harlan’s campaign bragged about being added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program and touted a late September Kitchens Group poll showing Scalise with an 11-point lead, the Democratic challenger drew an embarrassing 34 percent of the vote, losing by 32 points. He never had a chance, but his campaign acted as if a win was likely.
Then there was Steve Greenberg, a Chicago- area Republican who promised that he would beat moderate Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in Illinois’ 8th district. Greenberg got plenty of ink for being a one-time professional hockey player, and his family’s wealth was supposed to assure that he’d batter Bean with enough TV spots to win in the Republican-leaning suburban district. He was one of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s early hot recruits.
But if Greenberg ran a quality campaign, it must have been in a parallel universe where everything is opposite from this one. While Bean raised $3 million for her re-election effort, Greenberg didn’t even reach $1 million, and he put only $156,000 of his own money into a race that quickly turned from potentially competitive to a yawner.
Unlike Greenberg, New Jersey Democrat Dennis Shulman didn’t give up. Shulman, a blind rabbi and psychologist, acted as if articles about him and his candidacy in Time magazine and the New Yorker, as well as an endorsement from the mayor of New York City, made him a celebrity and a serious threat to incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Garrett. They didn’t. Most people in his district don’t read those magazines or care what Michael Bloomberg thinks.
Garrett’s district strongly leans Republican, and Bush won it with 57 percent in 2004, running more than 11 points ahead of his statewide total. Credible Republican statewide candidates always carry the district even if they are getting pounded statewide.
Despite all the self-generated hype and over-the-top campaign rhetoric, Shulman drew 42 percent against Garrett — almost 2 points worse than Paul Aronsohn (D) did two years earlier and only 1,300 votes more than 2004 Democratic nominee Anne Wolfe did.
Then there is Republican John Stone, a conservative activist and former Congressional staffer, who got slightly more than one-third of the vote in Georgia’s 12th district and blamed his loss to incumbent Rep. John Barrow (D) on the NRCC.
Stone’s own fundraising stunk, and he had no chance in the current environment to win in a 45 percent African-American district that was carried by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) four years ago. But that didn’t stop him from trying to avoid responsibility for his own failure.
The case of Indiana hopeful Mike Montagano (D) is in a class all by itself. Like a few other allegedly serious hopefuls I’ve met over the years, he was short on credentials and maturity. Even worse, he either couldn’t or wouldn’t take positions on issues.
Montagano, who received considerable financial help from his father, clearly was in over his head in this race, and his ability to win 40 percent of the vote says something about incumbent Rep. Mark Souder’s limited appeal and district voters’ willingness to vote for any Democrat on the ballot.
Finally, we have the case of Nick Leibham (D), a young, appealing challenger to incumbent Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) in a district that seems to have a ceiling for Democrats in competitive federal races that is below 50 percent, no matter the circumstances.
Leibham assured us that he was the guy to knock off Bilbray, even though Kerry drew 44 percent in the district and Francine Busby drew 45 percent and 43 percent in the ’06 special and ’06 general election, respectively.
The special election should have been a particularly good opportunity for Democrats in the district, since the seat was left open following Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham’s resignation, plea bargain and incarceration. But after a spirited campaign against a Republican who had been a lobbyist and in an environment when Republicans around the country were in terror, Bilbray beat Busby by 7,200 votes (4.6 points).
This year, Leibham drew 45 percent against Bilbray, just what Busby did in that special.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 17, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, November 17, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
If history is a guide, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is well-positioned for another six years in the Senate, should he choose to run for re-election in 2010.
Democrats would love for outgoing Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) to run for McCain’s seat, but it’s unclear whether President-elect Obama will tap her to be a part of his administration. McCain won Arizona 54 percent to 45 percent against Obama last week.
Frankly, there isn’t a ton of historical precedence, but since the direct election of Senators began, both sitting Senators who lost their presidential bids went on to win another term.
After losing the 2004 presidential race, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) returned to the Senate and won re-election last week, 66 percent to 31 percent.
South Dakota Sen. George McGovern (D) lost the 1972 presidential race and won re-election two years later with 53 percent. McGovern was subsequently swept out in 1980, defeated by then-Rep. James Abdnor (R), while Republicans netted 12 Senate seats nationwide.
Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) was up for re-election in 1964, but he ran for president instead and lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson.
And in 1996, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) resigned his seat in June in order to focus on his ultimately unsuccessful presidential race.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 12, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Chicago Democrats probably thought they wouldn’t see another Congressional vacancy for decades. But now that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is stepping off the House leadership ladder to become White House chief of staff, a growing number of prospective candidates are sizing up a shot at his 5th district seat.
Deborah Mell (D) was just elected to the Illinois state House, and has yet to be sworn in, but she is likely to run for Congress. Mell, who is openly lesbian, is the daughter of powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell (D) and is the sister-in-law of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).
She’ll have plenty of competition for the seat, where turnout for a special election in early 2009 is expected to be low, and local politics could reign supreme. Once Emanuel’s resignation is official (which is not likely to take place until January), Blagojevich must set the primary and general election dates to be held within 120 days.
The winner of the Democratic primary will be the overwhelming favorite in the special general election in a Northwest Chicago district where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received 67 percent in 2004, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) presumably did even better last week.
Former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath (D) challenged the unpopular Blagojevich in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. The governor won with more than 70 percent, but Eisendrath is a potential Congressional candidate. Another vocal Blagojevich critic, attorney and state Rep. John Fritchey, could run as well.
Hyatt Hotel heir J.B. Pritzker is another potential Democratic candidate. He backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Democratic presidential primary, was ranked No. 149 on Forbes’ 2007 list of richest Americans, and ran for Congress in 1998, when he finished third with 21 percent in the 9th district race, won by Jan Schakowsky (D). His sister, Penny Pritzker, is one of Obama’s big financial supporters.
A host of local politicians could look to make the jump to Congress as well.
Democratic Aldermen Gene Schulter, Tom Allen, Marge Laurino, Pat O’Connor, Manny Flores and Tom Tunney are all mentioned. Tunney, a restaurateur, is the only openly gay member of the Chicago City Council. Flores briefly ran at the beginning of the 2008 cycle for the adjacent seat held by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) when it appeared as if the Congressman was retiring. But he quickly deferred when Gutierrez announced he was seeking another term.
Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D) is another potential candidate. He is thought to be close to Emanuel and Obama chief strategist David Axelrod, but Claypool might also be aiming for county board president in 2010.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, former state Representative and 2002 Congressional candidate Nancy Kaszak, and former Clinton White House aide and 2002 candidate Peter Dagher are possibilities as well. Kaszak took 38 percent against Blagojevich back in 1996 in the 5th district Democratic primary, and was the runner-up to Emanuel in 2002.
Attorney Michelle Smith, former Emanuel chief of staff John Borovicka, and businessman Cary Capparelli could be in the mix, too. Capparelli is the son of former state Rep. Ralph Capparelli.
With a large number of credible candidates and no runoff provision under state law, the next Member of Congress in Illinois’ 5th could come with 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote, according to Chicago attorney and political columnist Russ Stewart.
In 2002, Emanuel won an eight-candidate primary with just over 50 percent of the vote. Kaszak was second with 39 percent. Dagher finished third with 5 percent while five other candidates failed to crack 2 percent.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
There is nothing wrong with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) positioning himself for President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, which Obama plans to relinquish on Sunday. But his new poll portraying him as the frontrunner to replace Obama is worthless.
The Zogby International poll of 802 likely Illinois voters, conducted Nov. 5-6, showed Jackson leading a field of “candidates” with 21 percent. One media outlet subsequently described Jackson as the “statewide favorite to fill the seat.”
In reality, there is no race to replace Obama. And the only poll that matters is a survey of one person: Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). He will choose Obama’s successor, and it doesn’t matter what any of Illinois’ likely voters think.
Apparently, Jackson commissioned the poll in an attempt to pressure Blagojevich into picking him by showing a groundswell of support and to fend off criticism that he couldn’t hold the seat in the 2010 general election.
But Jackson’s poll is the equivalent of asking Americans who Obama should choose to be secretary of State and then deeming that person the frontrunner. Like the survey Jackson paid for, such a poll would be silly and worthless.
Even the numbers within Jackson’s poll aren’t particularly convincing. Jackson’s advantage likely stems from higher name identification. And he most likely has his father’s help with that. The survey shows that almost eight in 10 people in Illinois prefer someone else to replace Obama. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Of course, Blagojevich may end up picking Jackson. But this Zogby poll tells us nothing about Jackson’s chances and gives no insight into the appointment process.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 13, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Republicans aren’t just losing ground in the House and the Senate. They’ve ceded their traditional advantage on some key issues, including taxes.
An Oct. 17-19 Opinion Research Corp. poll for CNN showed that Americans believed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would do a better job handling the tax issue than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 50 percent to 44 percent.
Despite Republican efforts to brand Obama as just another tax-and-spend liberal, the Democratic nominee was very disciplined on the campaign trail, explaining that under his plan, 95 percent of Americans would not see a tax increase and that under McCain’s plan, health care benefits would be taxed.
On Election Day, most voters were skeptical — of both parties.
According to national exit polling, 71 percent of voters believed that their taxes would go up if Obama were elected president. But 61 percent believed their taxes would increase in a McCain administration.
An earlier Oct. 30-Nov. 1 Opinion Research poll showed that 48 percent of likely voters thought it to be very likely or somewhat likely that their taxes would be lower four years from now under President Obama. Only 40 percent believed that to be the case under President McCain.
A pre-election survey conducted in four battleground states by the Republican firm OnMessage Inc. for the American Issues Project, a conservative group that favors small government, a strong national defense and low taxes, confirms that the line has been blurred between the supposed tax cutting and tax hiking parties.
Fifty-one percent believed their taxes would go up under Obama, compared to 41 percent who believed they would see a tax increase under President McCain. But almost one-quarter of respondents believed their taxes would go down under Obama, compared to only 9 percent who believed they would pay fewer taxes under McCain.
The OnMessage poll surveyed 1,200 likely and early voters in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Colorado Nov. 2-3.
There are numerous factors for the shift, but the electorate’s changing priorities are not helping the GOP.
Back in 2000, 14 percent of general election voters said that taxes were their most important issue, and 26 percent said a tax cut should be the most important issue for the new president. George W. Bush won the former group with 80 percent and the latter with 71 percent.
This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
The big question that everyone is asking is whether this month’s general election marked the beginning of a political realignment that will create a new dominant party. Have Americans shifted their loyalties and fundamental assumptions about the parties and about the government, or did we just witness a short-term reaction to years of bad news?
Let’s be clear: The election results in 2006 and 2008 constitute the kind of one-two punch that is rare in modern American political history. It would be silly to portray this year’s election as a minor hiccup. The nation elected a liberal African-American Democrat from the North as president, and it gave him a majority of all votes cast.
Moreover, in the past two elections, Democrats gained at least a dozen Senate seats and at least 50 House seats, taking total control of Congress. At the state level, they now have 4,090 state legislators to the GOP’s 3,221.
Polls show that the Republican advantages on foreign policy and pocketbook issues have either shrunk or disappeared. While there remains a stark contrast on cultural matters between the parties, Democrats have sought to mute that difference on both guns and values, and those issues clearly were not what the 2008 elections were about.
If demographics are indeed destiny, then the 2008 national exit poll at the very least raises questions about where the GOP goes from here.
For the first time ever, whites constituted less than 75 percent of the electorate, a considerable problem for the Republican Party given its historical problems attracting minorities. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) drew just 55 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) drew 67 percent of it four years later — a remarkable showing considering that many of those voters preferred Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Democratic contest and supposedly were resistant to voting for a black candidate.
While the highly anticipated surge in younger voters never materialized, those voters younger than 30 who did participate went overwhelmingly for Obama, 66 percent to 32 percent. That 34-point margin was almost four times the 9-point margin that Kerry had with voters younger than 30.
As many analysts have pointed out, if these younger voters carry that Democratic preference with them through their lives, they could constitute a strongly Democratic cohort for the next 40 or 50 years.
Just as bad for Republicans is the fact that over the past dozen years, there has been a noticeable shift in voters’ attitudes toward government, according to an exit poll question that has also been asked for years in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.
In December 1995, only a third of respondents said that “government should do more to solve our country’s problems,” while 62 percent said that government “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.” But in this year’s exit poll, a slim majority, 51 percent, said government should do more, while only 43 percent said it was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.
That’s a potentially significant change in attitudes that suggests voters may be more willing to accept a more activist government that regulates business and seeks to affect outcomes, rather than merely ensures a neutral playing field.
Democrats and liberals would prefer the story to end here, but it doesn’t. Other data paint a different picture.
First, in an election with a highly unpopular Republican president and a severely damaged Republican brand, the Democratic share of the presidential vote increased from 48 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004 to 53 percent of the vote in 2008, hardly a landslide figure or evidence of a new dominant political coalition.
Obama’s victory was built largely on a number of factors: higher black turnout, a bigger Hispanic vote, big numbers among younger voters and first-time voters, and more support from independents. It’s far from clear that any of those numbers will be replicated in 2010 or 2012, because these groups could well have been motivated by Obama’s personal appeal, not ideological or partisan dogma.
Second, one of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) biggest problems among core groups was a 5-point drop among white men. President Bush carried 62 percent of white men in 2004, while McCain won only 57 percent of them.
The drop easily could have been caused by growing concerns about the economy, as well as the lesser salience of national security concerns between 2004 and 2008, rather than a fundamental shift in partisan loyalties.
Third, the lack of any statistically significant shift in self-described ideology of voters also argues against a fundamental realignment. In 2004, 21 percent of voters called themselves liberals, while 34 percent said they were conservatives. This year, 22 percent said they were liberals and the same 34 percent identified as conservative.
Finally, the 2008 exit poll found far more Democrats turned out than Republicans. In the exit poll four years ago, self-identified Democrats and Republicans each constituted 37 percent of the sample, but this year 39 percent of voters were Democrats compared with 32 percent of Republicans. Fewer Republican voters meant fewer votes for Republican candidates.
While this change could reflect a fundamental shift in self-identified partisanship, it could merely be a dip in GOP turnout caused by any number of factors (possibly dissatisfaction with McCain’s candidacy, the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate or the issue agenda of 2008) or a one-time shift in partisanship. Party ID, after all, reflects the popularity of the party at any moment, and the damage to the Republican brand certainly could have caused a short-term dip in GOP identification.
At this point, it is far too premature to claim that 2008 was anything more than a dramatic reaction to an unpopular president and to a party hurt by its own ineptness. Obama will have a chance to change the nation’s political landscape. But his election, by itself, isn’t necessarily a sign of a new partisan alignment.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Stuart Rothenberg
For members of the Grand Old Party, this is a day to celebrate. Your long national nightmare, otherwise known as the Bush administration, is over.
Of course, there will be plenty of hand-wringing, finger-pointing and even internecine warfare among party activists and their interest-group allies over the next few weeks as various constituencies within the party seek to assign blame for Tuesday’s Democratic sweep, though it was not nearly as bad as it could have been considering the public mood and the Democrats’ financial advantage.
Some will predict the end of the GOP. Others will merely consign it to minority party status for years because of demographic changes.
I know that this will happen because I’ve seen it before: each time a party has suffered big losses, frustration boils over. It happened after the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1994 elections.
Moderates and ideologues in the losing party always seem to disagree about who was at fault and what steps the bloodied and bruised party needs to take to get back on the winning track. After the 1964 and 1974 elections, some predicted the disappearance of the Republican Party. And reports of the death of the Democratic Party were greatly exaggerated after the 1972, 1994 and 2004 elections.
While the near term is not rosy for Republicans, party members will now be able to turn the page, on what was tantamount to a four-year election cycle.
Maybe President Bush wasn’t responsible entirely for high gasoline prices, a mortgage foreclosure and financial crisis, Republican ethics lapses on Capitol Hill, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a seemingly endless litany of depressing news stories. But the GOP was never going to recover its standing until the Bush years ended. Tuesday night marked the beginning of the end.
Now, Republicans will be able to slide back into a role in which they are more comfortable — as the “out” party criticizing Democrats for expanding government, spending excessively and promoting a liberal cultural agenda. And they can return to their core beliefs and traditional messages of fiscal responsibility, a strong defense and traditional values.
Of course, Republican poll numbers will not improve quickly, and Democrats are likely to run against Bush and the GOP for at least the next eight years, the way they ran against Herbert Hoover for decades and Republicans ran against Jimmy Carter long after he had left the White House and returned to Plains, Ga. But at least Republicans have taken the first step to recovery.
Democrats have plenty of reasons to revel in their victory and particularly in President-elect Obama’s convincing win. With large majorities in both chambers of Congress (though not as large as I expected) and myriad problems to address, they’ll be able to change the nation’s priorities and policies.
But with victory comes expectations, and it is those expectations that could easily morph into problems for the president-elect.
Obama must satisfy Americans, most of whom are pragmatic, as well as base Democratic constituencies, most of which aren’t. And he must propose specific policies and spending priorities, some of which are likely to give Republicans fodder for attack.
The public’s fear and pessimism about the future gives Obama the flexibility that few incoming presidents have. With huge majorities in both chambers of Congress and big problems seemingly everywhere, the new president will find a receptive public and Congress that will give him an unusually long honeymoon, especially after he informs Americans that things are even worse than they thought.
Still, Republicans need this clean break with the past if they are to rebrand their party.
The GOP has lost its advantage on crucial issues, and its ability to regain its standing on those issues will depend on the actions of Obama and the Democratic Congress. But odds are that the GOP’s comeback on those issues — at least some of them — is imminent.
The always-thoughtful Peter Beinhart recently wrote that America’s “culture wars” have ended and that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) may be “the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time.” I suspect that he’s wrong and that the cultural divide will once again reappear, giving Republicans one of their fronts back in the political wars.
Beinhart is correct that the nation’s economic concerns towered over abortion, same-sex marriage and guns in 2008. Cultural issues did take a back seat. But that wasn’t because those issues are now passé or because demographic changes make them irrelevant to American voters.
Democrats have spent years trying to inoculate themselves on “values,” particularly on guns, and if the party governs in a moderate way, it will indeed neutralize those issues. But if the party, aided by the courts, advocates a culturally liberal agenda, you will see those issues surface once again west of the Hudson River all the way across to the California state line.
Similarly, events could give taxes, fiscal responsibility and national defense issues back to the GOP just the way Republicans handed them to Democrats over the past few years. That’s not inevitable, of course, but it’s very possible, depending on the Democratic agenda.
So now we will find out what kind of president Obama will be. Will he be an idealist or a realist, an ideologue or a pragmatist? And exactly how does he think he can “bring America together?” His answers to those questions will likely determine how successful his presidency will be.
It is always fascinating to watch a new president. But this time it may be even more fascinating to watch than most.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 6, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.